October 04, 2007

Syria and Israel: Light fuse and run

The Middle East has long been the topic of hot debate among leaders of the Western world; states such as the United States of America, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the rest of the G8. Topics have ranged from oil and opium to Islam versus Judaism and terrorism. However, on Tuesday, October 2nd of 2007, relations between Israel and the rest of the Arab world became volatile. BBC news reported that an Israeli official publicly confirmed that Israel was indeed responsible for the air strike against Syria on September 6th, 2007. Israel claims that the attack was a preemptive strike on a target believed to have been an arms cache for the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah. Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad (seen right) stated that the target that had been bombed was a building under construction for military use, but had yet to be completed, thus resulting in no casualties. Others, such as Ynet news group claim that the air strike was likely a reconnaissance mission to determine whether or not Syria was developing a nuclear program with help from North Korea.

The legitimacy of a preemptive strike is questionable. For such an attack to be warranted, all that need be is the belief that a threat exists. Since Israel has failed to produce any conclusive evidence as to whether or not their target posed a tactical threat, the possibility of this merely being a reconnaissance mission seems closer to the truth. Nevertheless, when using a tactic such as the preemptive strike, states will most likely default to article 51 of the United Nations Charter which, in essence, allows member states to protect themselves from an eminent threat without having to go through the lengthy and timely bureaucratic system of approvals at the UN. This is potentially problematic, if this attack is brought to the General Assembly, it is likely that that United States will side with Israel in order to not incriminate themselves for the invasion of Iraq and to further pressure the Syrian government to hand over the leaders of Hamas. This polarization of power could incite even more instability in the region.

The other possibility of this attack that I have yet to address fully, is the chance that Israel was conducted a search of the area to confirm whether or not Syria was developing a nuclear program with North Korean assistance. On September 21st, Choe Tae Bok, Secretary of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Worker’s Party and Saaeed Eleia Dawood, Director of the Organizational Department of Syria’s Baath Arab Socialist Party met in Pyongyang to discuss “issues of bilateral interest”. Korean Central News Agency did not elaborate on the specificities of the talks. While this in of itself is quite suspicious, given the proximity in dates of the air strike and the bilateral talks, Andrew Semmel, goes one step further. Acting United States deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear proliferation, reported that North Koreans were spotted in Syria on September 14th and that “he could not exclude that the network run by disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan (seen left) may have been involved”. While both states have denied nuclear cooperation, United States officials are quite skeptical.
While Israel’s motive for the air strike still remains shrouded in mystery, the real concern is whether or not Syria will retaliate. President al-Assad stated in an interview with BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet “Retaliate doesn’t mean missile for missile or bomb for bomb. We have our means to retaliate, maybe politically, maybe in other ways. But we have the right to retaliate”. A renewed conflict between Israel and Syria would be detrimental to Middle East security, American attempts at nation building in Iraq, and has the potential to tempt Iran into fulfilling their desire to destroy Israel.

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